Just Like Growing Up in (with) Queens

Arlene Istar Lev LCSW, CASAC is a family therapist, activist,
and lesbian mom to two handsome sons. Find her on the web at
www.choicesconsulting.com
and www.prideparenting.com (search:
Dear Ari). Here, Arlene Istar Lev recounts her experience at the
10th Family Week in Provincetown, MA. To learn more about Family
Week, click here.

It is truly amazing how 400 queer families can completely transform
a small seaside fishing resort! Yes, 400 LGBT families have once
again descended on Provincetown, Massachusetts for the 10th
anniversary of Family Week. Gay dads with one, two, three, and even
seven, yes seven, children in tow. Lesbian moms pushing double
strollers holding twins, couples round with babies on the way,
Babies held in carriers close to their bodies, toddlers up on
shoulders bouncing, small children pulled in bicycle carriers
behind fast peddling dads trying to figure out to stay fit while
parenting. And oh those teens and pre-teens; many have that classic
teenage bored look, as if standing on street corners with drag
queens who are in heels and make up and flashing pasties
encouraging people to come to their evening performance, is just so
regular, so blas√©, so “whatever” that it’s not worth
discussing.

Others have that absolute directed intensity of activist youth;
they make fierce eye-contact while offering to shake your hand and
discuss the need for sex education in the public schools, or how
sad and painful it is to have your gay dad die of AIDS, especially
when your school doesn’t want you to talk about it. Our children,
growing up and taking on the world.

Family Week, produced by the Family Pride Coalition, has been a
refuge for LGBT families, one of the very few places we go where
our rainbow families are bell-curve normal. Same-sex headed
families, mixed-race families, gender-bent expression are the norm;
kids play on the beach, digging for crabs, rafting on the ocean,
while their parents discuss how to raise issues of diversity and
homophobia within the school systems.

As we were leaving this year, friends crowded around the van,
yelling “drive safe” and “see you next year,” blowing kisses and
waving, a friend playfully asked, “What about this scene is like
saying goodbye when I was kid growing up in Queens, and what is so
very different?”

We all laughed (a group of expatriate ethnic New Yorkers); indeed,
much was the same forty years later. We all talked loudly and at
the same time, we had left over food packed up to take home (albeit
in coolers not shopping bags), we said goodbye about 50 times
before we actually left (and then came back because we forgot
something). We had taken the best of our family gatherings,
legacies from the old countries from where our grandparents fled,
seeking a better life. We had given our children that same
wonderful summer feeling we remembered from our youth of sun, and
water, good food and wild fun, and lots of loving parental arms to
run to when the inevitable children’s squabbling began or to wipe
away the tears when a boo-boo happened.

But, for all our regular-ness, we are not just an average group of
dads and moms. My friend who asked the question has been in a
thirty year relationship with his male partner. They are two white
men who adopted their African-American daughter at birth, a wild
and strong-willed child, who plays baseball with a fierce
intensity, challenging boys’ years older than her. Their daughter
has a pen-pal, an older African-American girl who is leaving for
college this year.

She too is the daughter of a white gay male couple who have also
been together for thirty years. Her parents were the first gay
couple to adopt in New York State, paving the way for all of our
families, and their daughter is now a fierce advocate for
gay-parented families. My friends pose for pictures, two white
dads, their arms loving protecting their Black daughter, her
long-hair neatly plaited, painting a new portrait of the American
family.

During Family Week we attended synagogue services. We sat with LGBT
families, representing all colors of the rainbow, forever changing
the face of Judaism. We also attended the COLAGE (Children of
Lesbian and Gays Everywhere) dance, watching our children all
dressed up, one young boy in outrageous drag, madly, crazily,
dancing with joyful, youthful abandon. Our children are safe here
in P-town, in this little town on edge of Atlantic Ocean, playing,
praying, dancing, and even doing drag — not because children of
queer people want to do drag anymore than any other children might,
but because they can if they want to. They can collect hermit crabs
(as long as they throw them back in the water afterwards); they can
play competitive baseball (even if they are girls with neatly
braided hair); they can wear yarmulke’s on their not so neatly
dreadlocked hair (and not be the only one), and they can dress up
in heels and wigs with their parents cheering them on, making
fashion suggestions. That is quite different from the way it was
when I was growing up on the streets of Queens!

(Okay, it was really Brooklyn).

So the queens and dykes, from Queens and Brooklyn, are in a family
way, keeping the best from the past, and building a future for our
children.